All in the family

A Maharashtra Assembly ticket given by the Congress party to President Pratibha Patil’s son not only questions the independence of the president’s office, it highlights one of the gravest problems in Indian politics today – the pervasiveness of dynasties. This blog had earlier questioned this trend. I have previously reported on how 62 percent of young MPs in the current Lok Sabha come from political families. While recently reporting on a tangential topic, I realised how family has become the substitute for even local party structures. Those defending this trend argue thus: in a country where families dominate all professions (just look at our legal system), young politicos have to atleast prove their mettle to voters. So what is the real problem with dynasties in politics?

Update:Seema Chishti’s nuanced take on this subject appeared in The Indian Express opinion page today.

Written by
Vinay Sitapati
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  • Thanks Vinay.
    Another defence that they make is that such people still have to receive support from the electorate. At the end of the day, they argue, the people still vote them in office.

  • Caste System… and the fact that the middle class do not involve themselves enough with governance at the local level (not including the residents' welfare associations as governance bodies)

  • I think that the argument that dynastic MPs are validated by voters is a spurious one. The real problem is that parties have ceased to have structures will allow individuals to participate.

    The problem perhaps lies in the central allocation of tickets. In the UK for instance, aspiring candidates have to be interviewed by the district party officials and the US has the primary system. Neither is perfectly transparent and the US has a fair share of political dynasties but nothing akin to the mock Mughal court that is taking shape in Delhi with regional satraps nominating their ambassadors to the center and children succeeding to their parents jagir.

  • In a country with so many uneducated people (not all of whom are illiterates), a surname always brings in more value to a politician's profile, than his competency (if any) would ever bring. And this DNA based trust is not just reposed in politicians.

  • Like Rohit, I too feel that the problem is with our party systems. There is therefore something fresh (if ironic) in Rahul Gandhi's attempt to bring about innner party democracy in the youth Congress, while trying not to give tickets to relative of congressmen (this is the irony). He, atleast, seems to see a link.

  • I think middle class indians have little justification to complain about 'dynastic politics'. Everything in India is dynastic. The 3 basic featueres of your life -where/whether you study, who you marry and what you do is determined by your family. Any society in which adults live on in their parents house depending on them economically till they are well established in their careers is dynasitc. Looked at this way, it is just that certain families have captured politics, while certain other families have caputured the legal field, medicine , accounting etc. It is all dynastic. Who amongst us can say they did not benefit from their famiy standing? This way politics at least saw some hitehrto underprivileged families getting power – which was redistributive. We must all call for leaving the paternal house at 18 and striking out entirely independent career paths if we are to have any issue with the politicians. They are only reflective of the society in which they are bred.

  • Subramanian, Im not sure I entirely agree with you. Sure, professions in India are dominated by families, and politics is no exception. But some professions are easier to get into without a family background, and some more difficult. In the case of politics, the percentage of new comers with family backgrounds is appallingly high — in other professions it is less so (journalism and sports for one; even if these professions have dynasties, they are not dominated by them). I think this difference has to do with the structural entry barriers to enter that profession. In the case of politics, the structural entry barrier is lousy party structures.

    But in some professions, the entry barriers are low enough for non-family members to have a decent shot